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Toronto Councillor Adam Vaughan is shown on March 8, 2011.MOE DOIRON/The Globe and Mail

Outspoken Toronto city Councillor Adam Vaughan is making a play for the federal Liberal nomination in Trinity-Spadina, setting up a battle with the New Democrats in a crucial Ontario by-election.

Citing the urgency of getting a candidate in place before a by-election that could come at any time, the party is invoking rules that allow it to speed up the nomination process, adding to mounting concerns that Leader Justin Trudeau's promise of open nominations will die on the vine.

Mr. Vaughan, a former television reporter best known for his detailed grasp of policy and his frequent criticism of Mayor Rob Ford, announced his candidacy Thursday with a vow to fight for urban issues, including a national affordable housing strategy.

"I believe Canada is stronger when our cities are stronger," he said in an interview Thursday. "If only we had a partner in Ottawa, the housing in the neighbourhoods I represent would be stronger. I can stand on the floor of council and shout about it until I'm blue in the face or I can go to Ottawa and do something about it."

The recruitment of Mr. Vaughan, 52, suddenly boosts Liberal hopes in a riding where they had suffered some knocks.

The candidate who ran there twice before, Christine Innes, was barred from the race in a dispute with party officials. Ms. Innes has since filed a defamation lawsuit against party officials, saying they slandered her by falsely claiming she was blocked from running because of bullying and intimidation tactics used by her campaign.

The infighting had boosted NDP hopes for its own candidate, Joe Cressy. The 29-year-old is a former campaign manager for the riding's ex-MPP Olivia Chow, who stepped down last month to run for mayor.

The left-leaning riding, which encompasses much of the inner-city west end, is an important test for both opposition parties, which are jockeying for position as the chief challenger to the governing Conservatives.

A number of other people have stepped forward as prospective Liberal candidates, which means Mr. Vaughan may face a contested nomination. The party this week issued a notice that Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough-Agincourt are in a "state of electoral urgency," giving the party free rein to speed up the nomination process to make sure a candidate is in place in case a by-election is called.

If the party speeds up the timelines, Mr. Vaughn would have a clear advantage over other prospective nominees. As councillor, Mr. Vaughan represents the eastern portion of Trinity-Spadina and as such would bring a ready-made campaign. He is popular in his ward, winning re-election in 2010 with nearly 75 per cent of the vote.

Mr. Vaughan's name had been raised as aides to Mr. Trudeau discussed who they'd like to recruit, but they assumed he wouldn't leave municipal politics. However, Mr. Trudeau's principal adviser, Gerald Butts, who knew Mr. Vaughan from work on Toronto issues when he was in Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty's office, discovered he was not happy with the atmosphere at city hall.

Mr. Vaughan sought reassurance that the Liberals wanted a serious policy on urban issues and housing, a senior Liberal said.

He met with Mr. Trudeau at a Toronto restaurant after the funeral for late finance minister Jim Flaherty in Toronto on Wednesday, sealing the plan to run.

Mr. Vaughan said that, if he receives the nomination, he will resign from council as soon as the by-election is called.

One of Mr. Ford's most vocal opponents, Mr. Vaughan famously dubbed the chief magistrate a "part-time mayor," after his penchant for skipping meetings and showing up late for work. On one occasion, Mr. Vaughan even told Mr. Ford and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to "go to hell" if they saw building more jails as a solution to crime.

He is also known for his lengthy, wonkish speeches at council, particularly on urban planning-related topics.

Something of a lone wolf, he espouses progressive policies, but is independent from city hall's organized left. He also has a fraught history with the NDP, having defeated a former Olivia Chow staffer to first win his council seat in 2006.

"Liberal governments are the only governments that have stepped up for housing. If we want an urban agenda, I have to help make Justin Trudeau prime minister," he said.

It's not clear when the by-election will be held. There are now five vacant ridings – two in Alberta and three in Ontario – and Mr. Harper must call a by-election in the Alberta riding next month. But he can wait longer for the three Ontario seats, especially if a provincial election campaign is triggered.